Oprah Winfrey didn't tamper with her reality TV contest, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Instead, a set of spam blogs are to blame for skewed votes in a competition to get a show on Winfrey's OWN network.
Earlier this week, Winfrey's search for a new star for her television network became embroiled in a voting controversy, but the disabled contestant she is accused of slighting dismissed any suggestions of impropriety by the talk show host.
"This is Oprah -- she helps people for a living," top vote-getter Zach Anner, 25, told ABCNews.com. "To think people are saying she's rigged the voting against me doesn't compute for me. It's not what I believe."
OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, invited people to vote online to determine who deserved their own show. But Internet rumors circulated that the network fixed the votes in favor of Anner's closest competitor, schoolteacher Phyllis Tucker-Wicks, because Anner, who has cerebral palsy, is disabled.
Thursday, the network confirmed to ABC that it had launched an investigation after several websites pointed out an unusual surge in votes for Tucker-Wicks.
In a statement to ABCNews.com, a spokeswoman for OWN said, "The online voting rules for the 'Your OWN Show' video submission competition were carefully crafted to be fair to everyone. Any allegations of impropriety will be investigated and the appropriate actions taken to keep the process unbiased."
As of Tuesday, the wheelchair-bound funnyman Anner, who explained in his video that he has "the sexiest of the palsies" and pitched a travel show for "people who never thought they could," had a commanding lead.
By that afternoon, Tucker-Wicks, a Tampa schoolteacher who goes by "Dr. Phyllis" and once dreamed of becoming a Hollywood actress but found "drama" in the classroom instead, had overtaken Anner. The Huffington Post claimed Tucker-Wicks had received 300,000 votes in 20 minutes.
By Thursday, Anner had regained the lead with 7.8 million votes. Dr. Phyllis had 6.4 million. But questions still remained.
The website Geekosystem launched its own investigation into the various claims and questioned whether someone from OWN actually rigged the votes against Anner.
Tucker-Wicks declined to be interviewed by ABCNews.com. But Anner said he thinks the entire controversy is preposterous, especially the suggestions of Winfrey's involvement.
"It's insane," Anner, 25, said from the home he shares with his brother in Austin, Texas. "I try not to watch the vote tallies. If I got caught up in the negative stuff, I couldn't concentrate on the positive things."
Anner said the entire process has been a surprise for him.
"It's just absolutely nuts," he said. "I would have to be delusional to expect this. I expected my mom and her friends to watch it. That would have been good enough. I wasn't expecting millions of votes and people quoting me all over the place. It's a dream-come-true kind of thing. I'm extremely grateful."